Nuts for nutrition

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By Cheryle Syracuse

 Long maligned for being too high in fat and calories to fit into a healthy diet, nuts are emerging as the health food of the year. This is thanks in part to research pointing to consumption of nuts being associated with better health, lower weight and decreased risk of early death.

The most recent version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we all “choose a variety of protein foods, which includes seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.” The dietary guidelines also recommend fat intake should emphasize heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in seafood, nuts, seeds and oils.

I probably don’t really need to talk most people into eating nuts. That’s an easy sell, but before you start pounding back double handfuls of cashews, read on.

The amount you eat is very important. Just because nuts are healthy does not mean eat all you want. A handful or an ounce of nuts make a healthy, satisfying snack. A bowl of nuts may be too many calories and send the healthy scale tipping the other way.

Another thing to think about is that these recommendations say to use nuts to replace meat or poultry, not in addition to these items. If you’re eating nuts in place of meat (for your daily protein needs) MyPlate recommends five-and-a-half one-ounce equivalents. This could add up to a lot more calories than three ounces of lean beef or a chicken breast.

How many nuts are in one ounce, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database, are 22 almonds (170 calories); 18 cashews (160 calories); 47 pistachios (160 calories); 14 walnut halves (185 calories); 11 macadamia nuts (204 calories); 21 hazelnuts (178 calories); 150 pine nuts (178 calories); and 19 pecans (196 calories).

As a snack, a handful of nuts (or one ounce) may not seem like much food, but the good fat in nuts keeps your hunger at bay for some time. Small amounts added to salads or sprinkled on main dishes can add flavor, crunch and nutrition and fight that hunger without going overboard with the calories.

For easy portion-controlled snack packs, simply count or weigh one to one-and-a-half ounces of nuts on a kitchen scale or by the handful and place in small snack bags. Keep in the refrigerator until you’re ready to enjoy. Shelled or unshelled nuts can be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to six months or for a year in the freezer.

Toasting or roasting the nuts can bring out the flavors. Here’s a quick and cool way (with minimal cleanup) to toast nuts and seeds in the microwave from Linda Gossett, an extension educator with the University of Idaho. This method works well for amounts ranging from a tablespoon to ½ cup. The time will vary depending on the size, type and temperature of the nuts/seeds and may be influenced by the type of microwave.

Spread from a tablespoon to ½ cup nuts or seeds evenly in a single layer in a flat, microwave-safe dish, such as a nine-inch microwave-safe pie plate.

Add a small amount of soft butter or margarine or add a small amount of oil to the nuts/seeds. Use about ½teaspoon fat per ½ cup of nuts/seeds; use proportionally less for smaller amounts of nuts/seeds. Stir the nuts/seeds to thinly coat with the fat. This small amount of fat helps with browning and speeds up the toasting process.

Microwave on high for one minute.

Stir and microwave for another minute.

Check to see how the toasting is proceeding. Add more microwave cooking time one minute at a time because nuts and seeds can burn quickly. Stir after each addition of time. Small amounts of thin nuts/seeds (sliced almonds or sesame seeds) could be finished at two minutes. Larger amounts of nuts, such as slivered or whole almonds, walnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds will take an additional minute or two to become lightly browned and smell fragrant.

Store any extra toasted nuts or seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one to two weeks or freeze them in an airtight freezer container for one to three months.


Source: The International Tree Nut Council Nutrition and Education Foundation (nuthealth.org); Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension-Lancaster County; and Dr. Carolyn Dunn, NCSU Cooperative Extension, Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less blog.


Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.